Who was Edward Baker Lincoln?
Edward Baker Lincoln was one of the four sons of the US President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. Named after Lincoln’s best friend Edward Dickinson Baker, he was born three years after Robert Todd, Lincoln’s oldest son. An inquisitive and kind child, Edward spent most of his life at his parents’ home in Springfield, the capital city of the state of Illinois. While little is known about him, a few anecdotes have survived in his parents’ letters to each other. He was never a healthy child, suffering from one illness or other throughout his life. In December 1849, Edward became ill with what was known back then as the consumption disease. He passed away after 52 days of acute illness. A poem named ‘Little Eddie’ (Edward’s nickname) was published a week later in the Illinois Daily Journal. The last line of the poem, “For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven" was put on his tombstone.
Childhood & Life
On March 10, 1846, the Lincolns welcomed their second son, Eddie, into the world. This was an exciting period in Lincoln’s political career as well. From the early 1830s, Lincoln had been an ardent Whig supporter and had unsuccessfully run in 1843 for the party’s nomination for Illinois's 7th district of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1846, he would win the nomination and named his newborn son after Baker who played an instrumental role in making the nomination possible.
Five months later, Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives. Following this, Lincoln and Mary decided to take their children to Washington D.C. Ever the idealist, Lincoln had certain preconceived notions about the capital of the United States, none of which, he realised, were true. Disappointed but not disheartened, Lincoln sent his family to the Todd home in Lexington, Kentucky, while he remained back in the city.
The couple maintained regular contact through letters in which Mary informed her husband about their life in Kentucky. In one instance, she wrote about a kitten that Robert found and brought home, much to the displeasure of Mary’s stepmother Elizabeth "Betsy" Humphreys, who disliked cats. Humphreys tried to throw it out but Eddie protested, screaming and crying. The responsibility of taking care of the kitten fell on Eddie who nursed and looked after the helpless animal. Humphreys eventually would have her way, banishing the kitten from the household. In later years, his parents would recall him as a tender-hearted, kind, and loving child.
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While Eddie had been ill for the most part of his father’s tenure in the US Congress, there were periods when he was perfectly healthy. It was quite possible that he was suffering from some chronic illness. The doctors at the time diagnosed it as diphtheria. The census record lists the cause of death of as chronic consumption, which is now known as tuberculosis. In 1850, more Americans died of it than any other disease; at least half of its victims were not even five years old.
Recent studies suggest that the cause of the death could have been medullary thyroid cancer. Consumption generally referred to any wasting disease and cancer is a wasting disease. Furthermore, his father and two of his three brothers had several features similar to people who have the genetic cancer syndrome multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2b (MEN2B) and Eddie himself had thick, asymmetric lower lip, which is compatible with MEN2B. All people who have MEN2B, get afflicted with medullary thyroid cancer, many at an early age.
Eddie died on February 1, 1850, at their Springfield home a month before his fourth birthday. Initially, his body was placed at Hutchinson's Cemetery in Springfield with a marble tombstone marking the grave. It had an angel on the top and the last line from ‘Little Eddie’ inscribed below. After the death of his father, his remains were moved to the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, also in Springfield.
The identity of the poet of ‘Little Eddie’ was not known for years. Many presumed it was one of his parents. In 2012, the Abraham Lincoln Association put out an article which concluded that it was written by an Illinois-based young poet.